Monday, April 13, 2015

What's Happening in Boswellville This Week? Jason Reynolds Tonight at East Library, and Chigozie Obioma, Jennifer Morales, Phil DiMeo, Soman Chainani all at Boswell, plus Nickolas Butler at Shorewood Library.

Day by day, the Boswell way.

Monday, April 13, 6:30 pm, at the East Library:
Jason Reynolds, author of The Boy in the Black Suit and When I Was the Greatest.

Join us for our first co-sponsored event at the new East Library, 2320 North Cramer. If you haven't yet been to the space, it's worth a trip for that alone, but if you are looking for a great event from an up-and-coming writer, you've hit the jackpot.

Boswellian Mel Morrow's recommendation: "At the beginning of Matt Miller's senior year of high school, his mom dies of cancer. Then his dad is involved in a horrific accident. Rather than sit alone in his suddenly empty house, Matt takes a job at his neighbor's business: a funeral home. A place where, suddenly, people seem to get it. It's a hard world for young African-American men forced to grow up too fast, but in the realistic Bed-Stuy of The Boy in the Black Suit, Jason Reynolds captures the myriad tiny graces and acts of compassion that keep people going when the world seems vicious and cold--the very things that make us believe in hope and love."

Here's librarian Amy Cheney reviewing the book in School Library Journal: "A mystery intersecting Lovey's life and that of Matt's best friend, Chris, deepens the plot. Written in a breezy style with complex characters who have real lives, this is another hit for Reynolds, fresh off the success of his When I Was the Greatest. The author's seemingly effortless writing shines in this slice-of-life story, which covers a lot of the protagonist's emotional ground. The realistic setting and character-driven tale keeps readers turning the pages of this winner."

From Alaya Dawn Johnson's NPR review: "So in the middle of Reynolds' hilarious, tragic, hopeful and almost-too-realistic story of a regular Bed-Stuy kid figuring out how to live without his mother, I was overwhelmed with the oddest sensation: I had read this story a dozen times before. And I had never read anything like it in my life."

We first met Jason Reynolds last year when he was part of the Gentlemen's Tour with John Corrie Whaley and Brendan Kiely. We had such a great time, and we saw so much potential that when I saw that The Boy in the Black Suit was coming out, I made a special pitch: "If you send Mr. Reynolds back to Milwaukee, we will fill his day with schools, have a very special evening event, and get a lot of books in the hands of kids." Sure enough, he's busy from morning till night, with three school visits in additon to our East Library program and at two of the visits, the kids will all have read the book beforehand. At Nicolet, Kelly told me that her students have reaffirmed what Alaya Dawn Johnson proclaimed; they haven't read anything like this in their lives.

On Tuesday, April 14, when Boswell is dark, you can see the engaging Rebecca Rasmussen at Mount Mary for their Writers on Writing series

Wednesday, April 15, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen.

Let's be frank here. Chigozie Obioma's first novel comes out on Tuesday. Our event is on Wednesday. He has some great credentials, with a degree from the esteemed University of Michigan writing program. And the book is great. But he doesn't know have contacts in Milwaukee, and he's coming during a very packed week, and so I'm a bit worried about turnout. I will tell you he appeared at the American Library Association conference in Chicago and more than one attendee has since told me what a wonderful and talented writer he is. Zoe, a Friend of Boswell from the Schlitz Audubon Center, is a particularly big fan.

Here's my recommendation."Set in the Nigerian town of Akure in the 1990s, Chigozie Obioma’s first novel chronicles a family’s self-destruction in a time of the country’s political turmoil. Father has great dreams for his boys, but when he takes a job in a nearby city, neither he nor Mother (with not just a job but two younger children to take care of) are there with a voice of reason when things get out of hand. The four eldest boys meet up with Abulu, a rather crazed but tolerated presence in town, who proclaims to Ikenna that he will die at the hands of a fisherman. Now these boys like to fish, so Ike naturally thinks that his killer will be one of his brothers, most likely Boja. Nothing the other boys say will weaken his convictions, with Ike taunting Boja angrily until he does begin to show the hatred that was prophesied. And then there’s Obembe, who actually passed on the prophecy to Ike, and blames Abulu for the family problems. As the fourth brother Ben tells the story, weaving in political rivalries and cultural touchstones, detouring the narrative to retell the stories that built the family bonds that are now straying, The Fishermen becomes a story not just of one family, but of the powerful forces that create tensions, not just in Nigeria, but in any country, where belief and fact, loyalty and justice, all rub up against each other, creating dangerous sparks. It’s a story that slots itself in a particular place and time, but one which resonates and cautions like a timeless folk tale." (Daniel Goldin)

Here's Barbara Hoffert, writing in School Library Journal: "This elegantly near-mythic debut novel from a Hopwood Award winner in fiction and poetry tells a deeply personal story that mirrors the larger social and political tensions in Africa...Made vivid by the well-rendered specifics, Obioma's quietly unfolding story of family tragedy gathers strength as its cycle of violence spins faster and faster. All fiction readers will enjoy."

And Helen Habila in The Guardian (UK) writes: "The book works on many levels. It is, at an obvious level, a Bildungsroman; the moment the father leaves home, on a job transfer to faraway Yola in northern Nigeria, the Agwu brothers are thrust into a harsh world with which they have to cope – a metaphorical allusion to the struggles of Nigeria’s failed leaders. Ikenna, at 15, is forced to become the head of the house; his breakdown in turn forces his younger brothers to prematurely grow up."

Sarah Gilmartin reviews The Fishermen in The Irish Times. She writes: "There is much to recommend in this debut, not least the insights into Nigerian culture and history. From the 'wrappos' the family wear to the songs the boys sing as they fish, given in both Igbo and English, a real sense of their childhood in Akure comes through."

And finally, here's an excerpt from Sam Sacks in The Wall Street Journal: “The mysterious, mercurial nature of folklore is potently displayed in Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel… Mr. Obioma’s long-limbed and elegant writing is shot through with strikingly elevated phrasings ….The Fishermen is full of recent history, and it can be read as an allegory of the civic disarray in Nigeria under military rule. But it’s also rich with ancient themes of filial love, fratricide, vengeance and fate. Its lessons may be slippery, but its power is unmistakable."

Thursday, April 16, 7 pm, at the Shorewood Public Library:
Shorewood Reads, with Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs.

Speaking of early events, many of you will remember that last year we hosted Mr. Butler on his first official day on sale for the hardcover of Shotgun Lovesongs, though I will note they did schedule at least one event before on-sale date. We had multiple reads on the book, but it's still hard to get the word out that this is a special event, even though we featured a pickled egg tasting from Bay View Packing. Who can't resist a pickled egg, right?

Despite the obstacles, and perhaps because the book was infused with Wisconsin-ness, we had a nice turnout for the event, in the low twenties. But since then, well over 100 of you have read the books bought from Boswell, and many more of you have borrowed it from a library, or bought it at any number of bricks-and-mortar or online retailers. I should note that for the paperback, Target picked it as their book club selection.

So when it came to selecting a title for Shorewood Reads, Shotgun Lovesongs had a lot of advantages. It came with some great reviews, including this early love song of a review from Janet Maslin in The New York Times. There's this nice review from Jonathan Evison in the Sunday NYT Book Review and Peter Geye's review in The (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune   It also won the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for 2014.

While the main event is Butler's appearance on April 16 at the Shorewood Public Library, 3920 N. Murray Avenue, 7 pm, there are several other gatherings planned, including the concert that was at Three Lions Pub this past weekend. There are two book discussions, one at Shorewood's Colectivo and another at Camp Bar, plus a craft talk on Thursday morning. Here's the complete schedule.

And here's a little more about Tyler Pelzek's beautiful poster.

Friday, April 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jennifer Morales, author of Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories.

A lot of you know Jennifer Morales from her long-time work in Milwaukee with all sorts of progressive causes, and was the first Latina to sit on the Milwaukee School Board. What you may not have known was that Morales was getting her MFA from Antioch University and now her first story collection has been published.

Here's my recommendation: ""Set in Milwaukee and environs, as promised, these stories are discrete but also connected. It begins with an accident, when a Black teenage boy is asked to move a bookcase by his White neighbor. And while we only get one story from Johnquell firsthand, we come to understand him through the people around him. In stories told with gentle humor and grace, his mother Gloria, his friend Taquan, his Aunt Bee-Bee, his sisters Johnelle and Johneitha, his teachers, the devoted Mrs. Charles and the Vietnam Vet turned substitute teacher Mr. Reid, each come to life. Even the grandfather whose work in the Black Panthers inspired later generations gets to tell his tale. With each connection to a neighbor, a relative, a coworker, or a teacher, there's a moment when tempers could flare, but instead of fighting, these characters aim for understanding. It's not that the racism and sexism isn't there, it's that the folks in Meet Me Halfway fight on with dignity, in spite of the prejudices out there, for knowledge, equality, and a voice." (Daniel Goldin)

If I had a quibble with the collection, it was that I didn't want it to end! That's the problem with connected stories; you can emotionally attached to the characters the way you do in novels, but there's never any promise that there's going to be resolution, It is sort of the unspoken agreement in most but certainly not all novels.

Morales' tour takes her not just to Wisconsin, but around the country, including in her tour, the top 10 most segregated cities in the United States:
--Thursday, April 16, 6 pm in Madison, at A Room of One's Own
--Saturday, April 18, 4 pm, at Powell's University Village in Chicago
--Sunday, April 19, 2 pm, at 57th Street Books in Chicago's Hyde Park
--Tuesday, April 21, 5:30 pm, at St. Louis's Left Bank Books
--Wednesday, April 22, 8 pm, at The Book Loft in Columbus. She will also be at Kafe Kerouac on April 23,
--Friday, April 24, 7 pm, at The Big Idea Cooperative Bookstore in Pittsburgh
More on Morales's website.

Saturday, April 18, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Phil DiMeo, author of Binoculars: Masquerading as a Sighted Person.
This event is co-sponsored by Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement, Inc. (ABLE) and Wisconsin Talking Books and Braille Library (WTBBL).

Can you imagine a life where you were slowly going blind, but you continued to press on, hiding your disability from everyone around you? I can, actually, and that's why I'm so fascinated by Phil DiMeo's new memoir, Binoculars. After initially hearing this story, I was pretty sure that this was just the kind of story that would interest Jim Stingl, and sure enough, that was the case. DiMeo discusses not only his story. Here's a tease.

"He worked for Milwaukee County for 33 years, investigating child protection cases, helping people on welfare find work and providing services for the elderly, by the end riding in taxis to meet with them in nursing homes. It was in 1993 after walking into a secretary at work and spilling coffee on her that the county insisted that DiMeo use a cane or find other employment. After that, fellow employees expressed that they never knew DiMeo was visually impaired. He had concealed it that well." Read the rest of the column here.

In addition to being a long-time social worker, DiMeo's cartoons appeared in a number of newspapers, including The Post, Crossroads the Vietnam veterans’ newspaper, The Honey Bucket, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, though I'm not sure if it was the Journal Sentinel itself, or its forerunners, The Milwaukee Journal and The Milwaukee Sentinel. Nowadays we see it as one lineage but talk to any of the folks who worked at the papers and they will assure you they were very, very different. I've had many folks correct me over the years when I said they worked at the combined entity. I guess it's like saying I worked at Hachette when in fact my job was at Warner Books, a division of Warner Communications. In a sense, PelĂ© was my coworker. I only started talking sports because I am obsessed with the fact that Phil's bio says he coaches the co-ed softball team, Kelly's Bleachers. I would like details.

Sunday, April 19, 3 pm, at Boswell:
Soman Chainani, author of The School for Good and Evil and A World without Princes.

It started with a read. Boswellian Mel Morrow came across Soman Chainani's first book and was enchanted. Here is her recommendation: "In this book, you will find a completely original idea, several layers of meaning, and a few meta moments. Soman Chainani's The School for Good and Evil is a splendid tale of friendship and growth between two girls who are trying to figure out who they are while stuck in the clutch of a school divided in which labels are necessary for survival. Sophie and Agatha demonstrate the value of friendship, regardless of social expectations. This entertaining novel takes the young adult fantasy genre to new places with strong female protagonists, and will give Harry Potter fans something new to look forward to."

As she sold the book to more and more kids, the word spread. Other booksellers around the country, both at indies and chains, were similarly enachanted, and the book made it onto The New York Times bestseller list for 15 weeks. Now the movie rights have been bought by Joe Roth and Jane Startz. Chainani himself is a filmmaker, and his works "Davy and Stu" and "Kali Ma" have played at over 150 film festivals. Even as an undergraduate, The School for Good and Evil was taking shape. Per his bio, "At Harvard, he focused on fairy tales and wrote his thesis on why evil women make such irresistible fairy-tale villains, winning the Thomas Hoopes Prize and Briggs Prize for his work."

Normally we host kids' authors after their school events but sometimes the schedule works out so that the public event comes first. The only downside of that is that kids who loved seeing the author can't come back with their parents and friends. But the nice thing about a Sunday afternoon event is that 3 pm is a good time for kids. We're so excited to be able to host Mr. Chainani for the paperback tour of A World Without Princes. And for those of you who want to know what's next, The Last Ever After comes out July 21. Reserve your copy now.

Here's the trailer for book two:

OK, that seemed a little scarier than I expected it to be.

Sneak peek for next week. Monday, April 20, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Andrea Lochen, author of Imaginary Things.

From the publisher: "From Andrea Lochen, award-winning author of The Repeat Year, comes an enchanting tale about family, love, and the courage it takes to face your demons and start over again. Burned-out and completely broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents rural Wisconsin home for the summer her four-year-old, David, in tow. Returning to Salsburg reminds Anna of simpler times fireflies, picnics, Neapolitan ice cream long before she met her unstable ex and everything changed. But the sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs awakens Anna from this small-town spell, and forces her to believe she has either lost her mind or can somehow see her son s active imagination. Frightened, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, but what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son s imaginary friends truly represent and hidden secrets about her own childhood."

Tuesday, April 21, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Theatre Gigante presents a preview of Terminus.

My apologies to all about a date/date mismatch we had for this event. The correct day, date, and time is Tuesday, April 21, 7 pm.

We’re excited to host an evening preview of Theatre Gigante’s production of Terminus, the international sensation and tour de force of poetry and drama by Irish dramatist Mark O’Rowe. This event features a series of fascinating talks: Paul Kosidowski will set the stage, if you will, speaking about the play, Mark O’Rowe, and Irish drama, followed by a talk about the Milwaukee production by Theatre Gigante’s own Mark Andersen and Isabelle Kralj, and we’ll round off the evening with a craft talk from featured Terminus actors, Megan Kaminsky and Tom Reed.

The play debuts May 1st and will run through May 16th; for tickets, call Theatre Gigante: 1-800-838-3006. Tickets available on Brown Paper Tickets.

Here's a last option for Tuesday, April 14. It's Milwaukee day, and that means a full day of events, culiminating in a City Hall Happy Hour and a concert at Turner Hall. Tickets are only $10.

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